Arlington, VA

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.

Arlington-based auto-refinancing startup MotoRefi recently announced $10 million in funding, led by Moderne Ventures.

The funding announcement comes after a year of gains for the four-year-old company, CEO Kevin Bennett tells ARLnow. In 2020, MotoRefi — based at 1010 N. Glebe Road in Ballston — raised $9.4 million, saw the number of users on its platform double and saw its revenue grow six times over. It facilitated over $250 million in auto refinancings and brought on an additional 100 employees.

(Bennett said MotoRefi does not release the number of users.)

The company, which was created by a team of venture-builders from Alexandria-based QED Investors, matches drivers looking to refinance their auto loans with credit unions and community banks. Bennett, who has worked on four other D.C.-area startups, said QED Investors co-founder and managing partner Nigel Morris asked him to lead the fledgling startup.

“Most consumers don’t know they can refinance their cars,” he said, contrasting it with a more commonly-understood home refinancing. “Only 47% know they can refinance their car and 2 to 3% do it.”

And unlike refinancing a home and or some student loans, where online platforms such as Rocket Mortgage and SoFi have made the process easier and more transparent, Bennett said this part of the market has not had its “Rocket Mortgage moment.” MotoRefi changes that, he said.

“People rightly don’t see the process as laid-out fairly,” he said. “One of the things that’s attractive about this startup is that it has a real very specific impact on people’s lives. We see the results of our work every day and that’s incredibly motivating.”

The startup handles the refinancing process from soup to nuts, checking credit scores and matching users only with the rates from banks and credit unions that they qualify for, Bennett said. The average customer saves about $100 a month.

For the smaller credit unions and banks that MotoRefi partners with, Bennett said the startup provides them access to customers they would not otherwise be able to reach. The startup also smoothes out the onboarding of new customers by streamlining the process of gathering documents and matching people with companies based on whether they would be approved, he said.

“We’re more efficient than our competitors because we’re the first real tech company in the space,” he said. “Our approval rates are higher, and it’s much less work for that credit union to review and fund a loan since we’re only sending customers who we know are a match.”

MotoRefi’s revenue comes from a number of different streams, Bennett said. The startup charges customers a processing fee in their loan and lenders pay MotoRefi for access to the people seeking loans, he said. The company also sells car-related services like a gap warranty.

Photo courtesy MotoRefi

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.

Last spring, Kapil Thangavelu and Travis Stanfield quit their tech jobs to launch Stacklet and help companies secure and manage their cloud networks.

Then the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic.

“Markets were in free fall and companies did not know what to do,” said Thangavelu, an Arlington local who founded Cloud Custodian, a popular open-source solution for securing and managing cloud systems, while working at Capital One.

Six months later, Stacklet — which builds on Cloud Custodian and provides professional services that an open-source project cannot — was starting paying off. The Clarendon-based company had raised $4 million in funding in August.

Last month, investors pitched in $18 million. Stanfield said that money will help realize his goal for 2021: to raise the company’s public profile. With the funding, the co-founders plan to hire more staff in engineering, marketing, sales and customer success and publicize the existence of Stacklet.

The company is backed by prominent investors, including renowned venture capitalist Lee Fixel, who has also backed Spotify and Peloton, and Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Foundation Capital. In this round of funding, Stacklet also gained a new individual investor: Liam Randall.

Randall is an Arlington local who “believe[s] in Stacklet so much [he] joined the company.” He was most recently the vice president of software innovation at Capital One.

The forced remote work of 2020 has accelerated the need among companies to transition their software and services to the cloud, and many are turning to Cloud Custodian, which means investors are turning their sights on Stacklet, Randall said. That is because Stacklet gives companies the extra support and features Cloud Custodian cannot, Stanfield said.

Open source is amazing, and the best way to develop certain kinds of software, but open source does not solve some of the real, material concerns that enterprises have,” the Stacklet co-founder said. “They want to know that they have a team that they can work with that prioritizes their needs.”

If the cloud is a metaphorical road in terms of what it enables users to do with their computing vehicles, Stacklet provides the guardrails, Randall said.

“We help people to know that they can use the cloud safely without accidentally driving off the cliff,” he said. “The cloud does let you configure things how you want them, and frequently, there are accidental configuring errors that lead to security implications, governance implications and cost implications.”

Often, Thangavelu added, cloud security relies on companies and employees “making the right choices all the time,” as physical security relies on people not forgetting to lock their doors.

But sometimes, people forget and do things online that could compromise a company’s cloud network.

“Whatever accidents happen, Cloud Custodian and Stacklet ensure the overall organization and customers’ data are secure,” as well as cost-efficient and well-managed, Thangavelu said.

One year ago, Stanfield said he and Thangavelu were nervous about the future, taking on a huge risk as the world was shutting down to combat the coronavirus.

Instead, this past year contained the moments that Stanfield said “have given us the confidence that this is good.”

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.

Clarendon-based CareerGig, a one-stop-shop for freelancers and companies looking for contract workers, has acquired another freelancing platform called Moonlighting.

The acquisition, effective Jan. 11, folds Moonlighting’s network of 850,000 freelancers and small businesses into CareerGig’s brand, CEO and co-founder Greg Kihlström said in a statement. The merger, which will be finalized over the next few months, will make CareerGig one of the world’s largest freelancer platforms, he said.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to expand the CareerGig brand and offerings to a wider pool of freelancers and contractors, and our partnership with Moonlighting gives us the ability to accomplish this quickly and efficiently,” the CEO said.

The combined technologies and networks will enhance CareerGig’s ability to source freelancers and match them with companies, Kihlström said.

CareerGig, which officially started operating in July 2020, provides to freelancers the health and retirement benefits enjoyed by full-time employees while triple-verifying their qualifications for companies strapped for time and resources. Now, Moonlighting’s network of freelancers will have access to CareerGig’s benefits packages.

Founded in 2014 by Jeff Tennery, Ritesh Johar, and Roy Slater, Moonlighting lets freelancers build profiles and allows businesses to hire professionals quickly and affordably. Tennery, Moonlighting’s CEO, will join CareerGig as the Chief Business Development Officer and lead efforts to grow business-to-business sales and partnerships.

“CareerGig is the ideal partner for Moonlighting to take this next step in supporting freelancers around the world,” Tennery said in a statement. “Their team shares our same passion and vision to deliver the best marketplace platform for the gig economy.”

CareerGig also gives freelancers access to education and certification opportunities through partnering colleges, universities and training organizations. They can also work with established and up-and-coming technology companies in and outside of Silicon Valley, the CEO said.

CareerGig, which has an office at 3100 Clarendon Blvd, rode the wave of people who decided to take the freelancing plunge due to the way the pandemic has upended traditional work. But Kihlström, a longtime freelancer, has watched the industry grow since the early 2000s and said it is worth $440 billion in the U.S. and $1.5 trillion worldwide.

The company also recently welcomed two high-profile leaders in tech and finance to its leadership team. Banks Baker, Google’s Head of Global Product Partnerships – Search Content, and veteran financial markets executive Brad Boyse joined in December.

Baker said the startup has its sights set on meeting the needs of future workers.

“CareerGig’s freelance network is growing to become the most comprehensive of its kind, enabling the type of growth in critical parts of the workforce that the future workforce requires,” he said in a statement.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.

BASH Boxing, a boutique boxing gym founded in Arlington, has announced plans to franchise its model across the country.

“There’s so much uncertainty because people lost jobs, or stepped out of corporate jobs,” co-owner and founder Alexandra Trakas told ARLnow. “This is an amazing opportunity for people who want a fresh start to own their own business.”

Trakas and her investment team, which includes Washington Capitals player Tom Wilson, plan to help open hundreds of locations “in the coming years,” locally and nationally.

Trakas, who turns 32 this March and entered the fitness industry at 24, opened her first location in Rosslyn in November 2018 and her second in Ballston in October 2019. A graduate of Shenandoah University with a bachelor’s in fine arts and a concentration in dance, she said she came out of the womb with an entrepreneurial mind.

“It’s the way I’ve always been,” she said.

After working for franchise outposts of The Bar Method and Orangetheory Fitness, she said was ready to discuss with partners the possibility of franchising a new boutique gym.

“Give me the playbook — I’ll add a few things to bring camaraderie — but stick to the playbook and it works,” she said.

She announced to staff early last year that the business will be franchising and that more information would come soon. For front desk staff and sales associates, she said, the news would mean more opportunities to view the job as a career path.

Although Trakas had to lay off some staff and regroup as a result of the pandemic, she never fully closed BASH. Instead, she said her team always pivoted to meet changing regulations for staying open. During the spring shutdowns, coaches taught free Instagram Live classes almost every day, before reopening on June 13. Today, they can only coach nine members at a time, despite having 1,000 members and a capacity of up to 44.

“The only reason we made it through the coronavirus is because of our community,” Trakas said. “I have an incredible team with me.”

She pressed pause on franchising work for about five months, but by July, Trakas could sit and wait no longer. She wanted agreements with franchisees and properties in hand for when the country fully reopened.

“We want to be ready to grow,” she said.

Trakas is looking to expand into what she calls “sub-cities” — suburbs of large metropolises that are also cities in their own right. Her first choice is not the sprawling, fitness-obsessed Los Angeles, but rather a place like Arlington, or Reston, she said.

The first 5-10 franchisees will get the most favorable terms and hands-on support.

“If you have the means and the commitment, it’s time to get in,” Trakas said

Images via BASH Boxing

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.

(Updated 9:30 p.m.) Ballston-based Fluence is ramping up its efforts to tackle climate change with energy storage systems for renewable energy.

The energy storage company was founded three years ago this month as the joint venture of Berlin-based Siemens and Arlington-based Fortune 500 company, AES Corp. It enjoyed torrid growth over the course of 2020: About 100 staff came on, including a new CEO, and it acquired a company in October.

This year is off to a great start, too, with a pledge of $125 million in investment from the Qatar Investment Authority.

“We have been experiencing an enormous growth since the inception of the company,” said Vice President of Strategy Marek Wolek.

Fluence develops batteries that store energy from wind and solar. Since 2018, Fluence had quadrupled the amount of energy storage it has deployed or is working on, from 600 megawatts to 2,400 megawatts. It has deployed or been awarded contracts for storage in 24 countries.

The work is “a little bit more complicated” than just batteries, however, Wolek said. It also makes sure the supply of natural, renewable energy can be converted into enough electricity to meet demands, without leading to surges in electricity or deficits for customers.

“That’s extremely valuable, and makes the whole energy grid stable,” Wolek said.

But to keep up in a rapidly innovating market, the company started seeking out investing partners about six months ago, he  said.

“How we effectively create a grid of future requires investments,” he said. “The mark is moving very fast: We have to make sure the technology is easier and faster, and efficient to use, for our customers.”

With the $125 million from Qatar Investment Authority, a founding member of the One Planet Sovereign Wealth Fund Initiative, which invests government funds into climate change solutions. Fluence will be investing in hardware and software, as well as staff to further develop the battery technology, he said.

In a statement, CEO Manuel Perez Dubuc said tackling climate change requires both technology and investment worldwide.

“We see energy storage as the linchpin of a decarbonized grid and adding QIA to our international shareholder base will allow Fluence to innovate even faster and address the enormous global market for large-scale battery-based energy storage.”

Dubuc came on as CEO in May 2020, after serving on the company’s board. He switches roles with Stephen Coughlin, who now sits on the board, said Director of Communications Alison Mickey.

He and the newly hired 100 staff members grew the company’s workforce to more than 300 worldwide.

In October, the company bought Advanced Microgrid Solutions, which develops AI bidding software for batteries and other tech for storing and generating renewably sourced electricity. The merger will help to improve energy storage, grid reliability and efficiency, Wolek said.

Fluence is headquartered at 4601 N. Fairfax Drive, and has offices in San Francisco, suburban Atlanta, Germany and Australia.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.

Ballston-based cybersecurity startup GroupSense is helping governments fend off targeted attacks on COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

The vaccine action plan, a modified version of GroupSense’s 2020 election plans, is a pivot that CEO and founder Kurtis Minder never envisioned when he established the company in 2014.

“We didn’t go seeking this out — it came to us,” he said.

Today, GroupSense helps a handful of local governments combat vaccine misinformation and negotiate with hackers targeting manufacturers in the vaccine’s supply chain. The company anticipates working with these municipalities for one year, but could extend that work if the protections are still needed later on.

During the 2016 and 2020 elections, GroupSense worked with municipalities, website hosts and social media companies to take down misinformation. After the 2020 elections, Minder said local governments asked GroupSense to secure their vaccine rollouts.

“It occurred to us that you could use this technology on vaccines,” Minder said.

GroupSense reports “disinformation” to local governments, which decide whether to take down or refute the claims, he said.

“If someone on Reddit starts a thread, it gives City Hall the opportunity to get into that conversation and post links to debunk that particular narrative,” Minder said.

While rumors run rampant on Reddit, bad actors working for foreign governments or themselves are taking advantage of the increased cybersecurity risks of remote work, he said.

“The remote-work problem has actually made ransomware easier,” he said. “Eighty percent of the time, the way the bad guy gets in, it’s because the company did not secure the network properly for work-from home.”

Government-led attacks are originating from countries including Russia and Iran, he said. They are often aimed at stealing intellectual property related to vaccines, and are harder to detect and stop because they have more resources.

Meanwhile, hackers looking to make a buck are demanding ransoms of small-scale businesses, such as refrigeration companies, which keep the vaccines cold, Minder said.

These hackers, from Russia, Moldova or Belarus, get access to a network, shut it down and demand a ransom, Minder said. They target “low-hanging fruit,” or businesses that are less likely to be secured against cyber threats and more likely to pay a ransom because the vaccine is in high demand.

“It just reinforced something we already knew: The security of the supply chain is really important to the outcomes of an organization,” he said.

GroupSense keeps tracks of these reports in a dashboard that it developed, Minder said. Federal law enforcement agencies have access to this dashboard, and use it to track attack trends, he said.

The CEO advises companies and governments to secure their remote access, teach employees about phishing, and ensure they only use private emails to sign up for non-work-related accounts.

This year, the company — located at 4040 Fairfax Drive, in the Marymount University building — reported 65% year-over-year growth, despite the pandemic.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.

2020 has been a big year for Arlington-based startups, both in spite of and because of the pandemic.

Arlington was predicted to fare better than other tech hubs because many of its startups focus on emerging technology in science and engineering, collectively known as “tough tech,” as well as the recession-resistant fields of cybersecurity and government contracting.

That prediction came true for local venture builder FedTech, which built and accelerated more than 50 “tough tech” startups, and partnered with government agencies such as the Department of Defense and NASA, a FedTech spokeswoman said.

It also developed a virtual summit on defense technology for the U.S. Army, attracting more than 1,500 viewers, and hosted a startup accelerator for the National Security Innovation Network, she said.

Meanwhile, Ballston-based GroupSense marketed its cybersecurity software to local and state governments trying to protect their elections from security threats this year.

“While these things are difficult to quantitatively measure, our constituents were excited about the results of our solution through the election,” GroupSense co-founder and CEO Kurtis Minder said. “Some of our customers have now contracted us to assist in the same fashion for the vaccine rollout.”

The software detected fake accounts and bots and classified actors that showed intentions to disrupt the democratic process. It also worked with social media, hosting and domain registration companies to take down posts with misinformation, he said.

“[Misinformation] can be as complicated as the state-sponsored actions that we saw in 2016, or as simple as someone tweeting that a polling station is closed when it is not,” Minder said.

The pandemic also created opportunities for non-“tough tech” startups to launch, snag millions in funding, bring on clients and acquire or be acquired by other companies.

CareerGig, which provides freelancers with benefits and vets them for companies, launched this summer, catching the wave of new workers interested in fully remote freelance opportunities.

Ballston-based GoTab nabbed $6 million because more restaurants needed its software to provide customers with a contactless dining experience.

Without opportunities to film in person, companies have turned to stock footage from Courthouse-based Storyblocks. Responding to a renewed interest in racial justice this year, it launched footage of diverse people doing everyday things.

Rosslyn-based Phone2Action gained new clients this year as record numbers of cell-phone users advocated for pandemic relief and social justice reform and campaigned for their preferred candidates. It also acquired two companies — GovPredict in November and KnowWho in December.

As individual startups grew, Arlington as a whole continued to perform well in national rankings.

The County was deemed the third-best place to work for women in tech, according to a study from the website SmartAsset, which measured the gender pay gap and number of jobs filled by women.

This year, 31 Arlington-based companies made Inc. Magazine’s annual list of America’s 5,000 fastest-growing private companies, including Courthouse startup DivvyCloud.

The company, ranked number 471 with 970% growth, was acquired earlier this year by cybersecurity company Rapid7.

Looking towards 2021, there’s optimism around continued momentum for the Arlington and D.C. area tech scene and the local economy, as the pandemic abates and the population gets vaccinated.

During a recent DCA Live event, one commercial real estate professional predicted continued tech growth as Amazon continues to hire and expand its footprint in Crystal City and Pentagon City.

Amazon HQ2 and Virginia Tech’s campus in National Landing [are] going to further our position as a national tech hub in 2021,” they said.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.

Rosslyn-based Phone2Action, which helps organizations mobilize citizens via their smartphones, is on a bit of an acquisition spree.

Its newest acquisition is KnowWho, a 15-year-old company based in Newington, Virginia with an expansive congressional directory. Phone2Action CEO Jeb Ory said KnowWho runs the world’s largest, most current directory of public officials and policymakers in the U.S. and Europe.

With the addition, clients will find it easier to identify key decision-makers, make sense of new and changing policies and improve their government affairs, Phone2Action cofounder Ximena Hartsock said in a statement.

Phone2Action is still flying high from a record year of people using the platform to advocate for issues they care about, from federal aid to restaurants to police reform in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to the election this November.

Last month, it purchased GovPredict, a technology company that helps organizations access federal data, see campaign donations, track bills and regulations and follow news.

Now, Phone2Action — which was founded in 2013 — owns the process of civic engagement from one end to the other. GovPredict identifies politicians and what issues they advocate for, KnowWho provides the best way to contact them, and Phone2Action gives regular people the chance to lobby politicians.

“Government relations and public affairs leaders have never faced such a tumultuous time as they do right now,” Ory said in a statement.

Government relations and public affairs teams will see government intelligence, find contact information and mobilize everyday citizens all in one platform, he said.

“Data powers the government relations field, plain and simple,” said KnowWho CEO and founder Bruce Brownson in a statement. “Phone2Action now directly maintains all the data that matters to government relations professionals today.”

Brownson will join the Phone2Action management team.

Phone2Action’s growth has exploded this year, according to Ory. It has 400 new clients, including eBay, Ericsson, Liberty Mutual, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Leadership Conference on Human Rights.

Phone2Action is keeping its Rosslyn headquarters at 1500 Wilson Blvd, and with both companies, will have nearly 200 employees, Ory said. Some are local to the area, while others are fully remote and located outside metro D.C.

Photo courtesy Phone2Action

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.

Michael Weigand was one of those “boots on the ground” Army platoon leaders, the kind often depicted in the movies.

But when the Army founded the Cyber Branch — the first new branch since the Vietnam War — Weigand decided to join. He and fellow West Point graduates James Correnti and Josh Lospinoso became part of the first 70 officers to trade a physical way of securing the nation for a virtual one.

The Cyber Branch taught the three officers how vital cybersecurity is for the transportation industry. When the three left the Army, they saw gaping holes in secure transportation in both commercial and government spheres.

“During that time, we started to appreciate that it is more than IT systems that need to be defended from criminals and foreign adversaries,” he said. “There’s been a lot of attention about securing power systems, dams and critical infrastructure, but transportation has the same needs.”

So they founded Shift5, a Rosslyn-based startup transportation data company that Weigand said helps businesses and governments run “smarter, safer and more efficiently by unlocking data.” Its office is located at 1100 Wilson Blvd.

During after their stint in the Cyber Branch, the three discovered transportation ran heavily on computers but few were monitoring the data these computers collected. To protect a system, Weigand said, data has to be monitored. But the data can do so much more.

Shift5 puts that data to work. The information can automate menial tasks and make systems more reliable, he said. It can also help executives make smarter business decisions, from choosing what to invest in to analyzing how a fleet is aging and predicting when maintenance needs to be done.

“We call all of that data that is flowing inside these big transportation systems, but is not being actively recorded, dark data. We like to shine a light on that, and collect, record, monitor it from cyber-security perspective, so that everything is operating efficiently,” Weigand said. “That is where Shift5 lives.”

The company sells data solutions to both the commercial industry and to the federal government, which helps Shift5 mix the flexibility and speed of the commercial industry with the innovation of the Department of Defense.

“By supporting both customer groups, we get to help bring the best of both worlds to our customers,” he said.   

Less than a year after the startup was founded in June 2019, the coronavirus hit, and Shift5 noticed customers needed their data monitored for security and efficiency more than ever. One hard-hit area was public transit.

This year, Shift5 started working with heavy commuter rail, which experienced steep declines in ridership due to the pandemic. It is more important now to be efficient with resources, Weigand said.

“They save a lot more money than they pay for the service,” he said. “It’s an awesome service with an additional security benefit.”

Next year, the group plans to expand into even more commuter and freight rail.

“There’s an enormous enterprise value we can provide to save money, make operations more streamlined and provide security benefit,” he said.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village. 

(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) Stand Together Ventures Lab, part of the Arlington-based philanthropic organization Stand Together, is helping launch and fund startups that could help people in transformational ways.

The nonprofit venture capital team invests money from Stand Together Foundation, which gives resources to community-based organizations nationwide to help break cycles of poverty. The umbrella organization for the Lab and the foundation, Stand Together, is located at 1320 N. Courthouse Road in Courthouse and was founded by politically-active businessman Charles Koch.

Koch’s Charles Koch Institute is located in the same building.

But Ventures Lab Managing Director Sihyun Choi will not invest in just any startup that purports to have a social impact. It has to take a revolutionary approach to a problem, not an evolutionary one, he said.

“Evolutionary ideas tend to be less risky,” he said. “We see a lot of solutions that help things the way they exist…That’s an easier thing to solve for than changing the system as a whole.”

Choi joined Ventures Lab this March, and in these last 10 months, he said he has learned how hard it is to find organizations that attack the roots of problems in the spheres of racial justice, criminal justice reform, poverty and immigration. He also joined as Ventures Lab was getting started and as the U.S. was bracing for COVID-19.

The pandemic heightened the urgency around the issues that need solutions, he said.

“My personal view is that expectations before March, and post-March — especially with the social unrest around racial justice and criminal justice reform needs across the country — have become exacerbated,” Choi said. “That certainly accelerated both the clarity of the work and the importance of it, and frankly, how quickly we needed to mobilize our work around that.”

The first group of startups receiving money from Choi and his team of ex-venture capitalists and corporate operations professionals reflect the topics people latched onto in 2020, which the pandemic in part revealed and exacerbated. These issues include criminal justice reform and racial inequality in unemployment.

From 140 startups it looked into this year, the Lab picked four: JusticeText, RisekitShift, and a fledgling company Choi cannot yet name. Typical checks range from $100,000 to $1 million, depending on the age of the company and the needs of a founder, he said.

JusticeText uses AI to transcribe audio and visual evidence for public defenders, who often do not have the time to review extensive footage and recordings themselves or the resources to hire a transcription service. Some estimate about 80% of crimes involve video evidence.

RiseKit helps people facing significant employment barriers — such as a criminal record, housing and food insecurity or a non-traditional education — find jobs. Shift helps veterans translate their skills from the military into jobs.

Choi could not name the fourth organization yet because it will launch next year, but he said it shows people in underserved communities — who may have no idea that their interests can align with careers — how to convert a passion into a viable life path.

Soon, Ventures Lab aims to invest in more startups, addressing other realms such as health care and education. The team is not aiming to invest in a certain number of companies, and it will take chances on those that may not generate lots of revenue, Choi said.

“We are exclusively biased toward if it is driving social impact — and if it makes money, great,” he said. “We’ll invest in the things we think are really important. By nature, it’s hard to put a quota on that.”

Asked if the lab will invest in Arlington-based startups, Choi said, “We’d love to continue to see opportunities here in the D.C. area, since the start-up ecosystem here is certainly growing.”

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